Consumerism is certainly one hell of a drug. Every year people all across the country research, plan and prepare to line up for the hottest sales only to scramble, fall over themselves and other patrons in a fight for only one of a few units of an item.
Black Friday has become a holiday tradition all on its own; synonymous with Thanksgiving as people immediately prepare for retail mayhem the day after Thanksgiving to take advantage of deep discounts and holiday sales on various products and merchandise.
But why all the fuss and, more importantly, where did Black Friday derive from? Well, the evidence is pretty grim and much more sinister than many imagine. There are several stories associated with its history, all dark and corrupt with origins steeped in an ugly past. One of these origin stories is the story that Southern plantation owners were given the opportunity to purchase slaves at a discount the day after Thanksgiving. It’s interesting that this story is the only one that is often refuted. Before dissecting the why, it’s important to note that America has a race problem that she hasn’t and may not ever be ready to address. All of which is why the story of slaves being sold at a discount deserves an in depth look and should be told.
Black Friday: The Term
The first recorded use of the term Black Friday was recorded in 1869 as a result of two financiers who bought up all of the gold hoping to sell it at higher prices bankrupted the entire market. 1869 was just four years outside of the abolishment of slavery and frankly in the 1800,s, it’s unlikely that the day would have been called Black Friday. It perhaps would have been given a more deleterious and offensive name such as N****r Friday.
While there are few facts to affirm this story, all rumors, myths, and allegations are based in truth. So what do we know?
Thanksgiving comes right after the harvest festival.
A successful harvest would require additional help. If we consider that after the harvest, the plantation owners would celebrate by selling slaves at a deep discount, then it’s plausible that slaves were sold around this time. One might also consider the preparation necessary for the upcoming winter would require additional labor to maintain the large properties to make it through the winter.
Slavery was a commercial-king for 200+ years
1619 is a significant year in tracing the commencement of slavery in America. 20 slaves that were captured from the Portugese slave ship, Sao Jao Bautista, arrived in Jamestown on the privateer The White Lion. Because of their durability, African slaves became the labor of choice and it spread throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. It is estimated that between six and seven million slaves were imported to North and South America. Slavery was both an agricultural and commercial success for both the North (plantation investors) and the South (plantation owners). As such, the continued seizure and selling of slaves persisted to meet the supply and demand of the economy.
How were slaves sold?
Once captured, African slaves were transported via the Middle Passage. Before heading to their final destination the slaves were prepared and sold in the Carribean. Slaves were sold by two methods:
- Auction – where an auctioneer sold the slaves individually or in groups by a bidding process.
- Scramble – slaves were kept in a sealed area and buyers paid a flat rate for access. The captain would open the enclosure once all the buyers paid and allowed them to bumrush the slaves taking the ones they wanted.
There were plenty of heinous acts that went into the slave-selling process that left indelible scars. From seasoning camps to filling wounds with hot tar, there were no boundaries on how far one would go for the sale. Keep in mind the Atlantic Slave Trade lasted for 400 years.
Slavery was abolished in 1865, but everyone wasn’t free
As one would imagine, the abolition of slavery was a huge blow to the South that was dependent on the once booming agricultural economy. Many angry slave-holders and plantation owners ushered in a new way to exploit black labor.
Every Friday was a Black Friday
While a direct correlation between selling slaves cannot be affirmatively connected to the Black Friday tradition. One tradition has persisted, the insatiable greed of commercialism and the psychological conditioning of consumerism. Both of which played an integral role in the continued reliance and support of slavery. In many ways, the very manner in which shopping is conducted is reminiscent of the slave-selling and buying process. Bidding wars, scrambling, and the purchase of last-minute items just to have something under the tree that will go unused or be disposed of before year-end (refuse slaves) are a dark reminder of the plight of the slave.